University of Oregon receives approval for police force
After months of debate, the State Board of Higher Education approved the University’s request to create its own police force at a meeting Oct. 7. Currently, there is a six-year plan to transition the Department of Public Safety into a more autonomous police force.
Eugene Police Chief Pete Kerns@@http://www.eugene-or.gov/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=273&PageID=3997&cached=true&mode=2&userID=2@@, DPS Chief Doug Tripp@@CE@@ and ASUO President Ben Eckstein were among many who testified in front of the board about the pros and cons of a police force. Kerns and Tripp discussed the Eugene Police Department’s inability to handle all the activity that goes on at the University.
“We have a very thin and stretched criminal justice system,” Kerns said at the meeting. Kerns cited one of his main concerns as being the poor response time to incidents on campus.
Student leaders still strongly oppose the addition of a force but are happy with the dialogue that has continued between them and the University.
“We’re very disappointed that the University decided to move forward with the request,” Eckstein said. “I do hope that the ASUO continues to fight for an active role in this decision.”
Many also hope the University will continue to reach out to the students about their preferences for this force.
“We’ve been meeting with the student groups, and it’s my sense that through these conversations there is an understanding of the need of a campus police force,” Lariviere told the board. “If we do readdress it, it will not be until we have had the opportunity to vet this with the community.”
One of the biggest areas of debate has been whether the police force will be armed, but the board explicitly stated that its decision Friday did not include the use of guns or tasers. Should the University decide it wants an armed police force, it will have to request that of the board at a future date.
Still, the issue is likely to re-emerge as many have begun to question the effectiveness of an unarmed police force, especially in the wake of the Oregon Court of Appeals’ decision two weeks ago, which abolished the Oregon University System’s concealed carry ban for weapons.
“There are police forces around the world who do not habitually carry arms,” board member Paul Kelly Jr.@@http://www.ous.edu/state_board/kellybio@@ said. “This is a decision that’s to be made down the road.”
The other questions pertained to the specifics of cost and training for the transition of the officers.
“Professionalizing the DPS has already been happening for years,” University spokesperson Julie Brown said. The cost will come mostly from a reallocation throughout the University’s funds.
Over the next six years, 26 of the current uniformed DPS officers will be retrained to become official police, while nine will continue to be security officers around campus.
“We’re pleased that they approved our request,” Brown said. “Any decision about the equipment (used) will be made after conversations with the community.”